In which Jamie concludes the story behind the creation of his Flesh-eater Courts warband.
In Part 1 we looked at what inspired me to start collecting Flesh-eater Courts for Warhammer Age of Sigmar, and saw how I converted and painted my first ghouls. The story continues here in Part 2 and, as we'll see, things didn't go quite as I'd planned.
I’d set out to create an army. But with just ten ghouls and a Crypt Ghast Courtier complete, I got distracted by other things for a while. I cycled through a number of abortive painting projects, including Khorne Bloodbound, Warhammer 40,000 Orks and Warhammer Quest: Silver Tower. Despite my early enthusiasm for the Flesh-eater Courts, the fiddliness of converting those basic troops had taken the shine off the idea of building a full army, and I felt a bit directionless. But the work of two first-class hobbyists conspired to revive my interest in the project.
The Dawn of AoS28
It was some time after I'd abandoned the Flesh-eaters that I discovered AoS28, a hobby movement spearheaded by Jake (@Ex_Profundis) of the most excellent blog, Ex Profundis. Jake describes AoS28 like this:
Inq28 explores the lesser known aspects of the Warhammer 40,000 universe and has been a huge success, inspiring Blanchitsu articles, numerous blogs and countless incredible miniatures. Inq28 has become a term that describes not just a particular game but a whole approach to the hobby: an approach that puts creativity and imagination first.
AoS28 is an attempt to bring that same approach to the Nine Realms.
There’s a lot more about AoS28 over on Ex Profundis, and I highly recommend giving it a read. Jake's conversion work inspired me, and continues to do so. I've always enjoyed kitbashing and converting, but it had always been something that I'd done with some specific hobby objective in mind - accurately representing something from the lore that didn't exist as a miniature or covering a gap in Games Workshop’s model range, that sort of thing.
The AoS28 philosophy brought into focus something that I hadn't consciously appreciated before - that a miniature could be converted for the sake of pure creative expression. It doesn't need to BE anything in particular. It doesn't have to conform to anything that's been set out by Games Workshop, or to anyone else's expectations. Approached with a certain attitude, a conversion can be as much a form of self expression as an illustration or a short story. If you can imagine it, you can convert it. Check out the AoS28 Facebook group and be inspired.
A Witch Hunter With a Twist
No sooner had I discovered AoS28 than Jake launched the first of what are now semi-regular competitions - The Eclipse: Witch Hunter. The idea was to convert and paint a Witch Hunter model in the AoS28 style, with the theme being open to extremely broad interpretation. I was hugely keen to enter. I felt that the macabre lore of the Flesh-eater Courts and the wild conversion possibilities that the faction presented were a natural fit for AoS28, and I still had some interesting ideas percolating in my head that had formed during my earlier efforts to muster an army. The question was, how could a 'witch hunter' possibly fit with the Flesh-eater Courts?
Actually, the solution ended up being quite simple. It was already established that the flesh-eaters think of themselves as chivalrous knights and nobles - in their version of the story, they're the good guys and everyone else is a monster. It was hardly a stretch to imagine that one of their number might see himself as some kind of pious figure called upon to root out 'evil'.
As is often the case with my more recent conversions, the model and its backstory took shape in parallel, with one feeding off and inspiring the other. I can't say exactly how much of the Witchsmeller Accusant's backstory was inspired by the random bits I incorporated into the model or vice-versa. But I can tell you what that story is:
Like every wretch that lopes and capers in the court of King Gargantula the Colossal, the Witchsmeller Accusant labours under delusions of grandeur. Since slaughtering a priest of Sigmar, removing his heart and tearing off his horse's head, the Witchsmeller believes himself to be Nagash's chosen representative in the Cadaverian Provinces, with a holy mission to seek out and punish heresy, sedition and apostasy against the Unliving God's glorious rule. In truth the two have never even been in each other's presence, for the Supreme Lord of the Undead would never deign to entertain such a deranged and conceited scullion.
The Witchsmeller Accusant wears the dead priest's heart around his neck as a badge of office, believing it to be a divine seal that endows him with the authority of Nagash himself to be judge, jury and grisly executioner to all and sundry. He rides out on a steed that he perceives to shimmer with a golden aura of righteousness, but which is nothing more than the rotting head of the priest's horse mounted upon a pike. With the grudging permission of his abhorrent king, the Witchsmeller stalks the provinces accompanied by the most devout paladins and acolytes of the court, sniffing out the deviant and the apostate wherever they may hide.
Human healers who furtively scratch out an existence in the bleakest cracks and corners of Shyish are among those who draw the attention of the Witchsmeller's insatiable nose, guilty as they are of prolonging mortal life so that their souls may elude the benevolent clutches of Nagash for another day. In the scattered encampments beyond the Cadaverian Provinces, humble practitioners of the healing arts seeking nothing more than to relieve the suffering of their desperate and downtrodden people have been discovered strung up from corpse trees, flayed almost to the bone by an unknown assailant.
For all that, it is his fellow mordants for whom the Witchsmeller reserves his most damning judgements and cruellest punishments. Any flesh-eater, whether prince or pauper, that dares to perceive Nagash as anything other than a haloed vision of divine majesty is liable to be tortured for days, weeks or even months until the full extent of their deviance has been confessed. With their sins exposed and souls duly cleansed, the mordants are delivered, screaming, unto the bosom of their beneficent god, and the Witchsmeller Accusant rides out to whichever forsaken corner of the realms his crooked nose might lead him next.
Converting & Painting the Witchsmeller Accusant
The Witchsmeller Accusant was the most challenging conversion I’d ever attempted at the time. I used a Crypt Horror as the basis for the model, reposing and re-sculpting various joints and limbs to give him a more upright stature and to allow him to hold his ‘hobby horse’ in the correct position. I also sculpted him an appropriately large and crooked nose, all the better for sniffing out heretics. His headgear was taken from a Khorne juggernaut with a Khornate mace added to it for extra decoration - somehow the spikes and skulls worked with the deathly aesthetic in this case. The Witchsmeller’s noble steed is the head of a Bretonnian horse with a wooden stake and extra details from the Bretonnian Peasant Bowmen kit - sculpted guts and tattered cloth completed the grisly effect.
When it came to painting the model I used the same colour palette that I’d used for my ghouls and Crypt Ghast Courtier, but modified my technique slightly to try and replicate the grittier ‘Blanchitsu’ style that AoS28 is often closely associated with. Essentially, this involved stippling multiple layers of ever lighter colours, working from the recesses towards the more raised areas. I’m pretty sure that’s not how Jon Blanche does it, but it was good enough for me. Perhaps one day I’ll write a tutorial covering how to cheat your way to a passable Blanchitsu paint job!
I entered my ‘witch hunter’ into The Eclipse contest - and didn’t win. Not surprising really, as I was up against a lot of very strong competition - you can see all of the final entries here. I’d had a great time taking part though, and I was very happy with how much the competition had pushed me, and improved my confidence in undertaking more challenging conversions.
The Witchsmeller Rides Out
I was very pleased with how the Witchsmeller Accusant model had turned out, and I was eager to bring him to life on the tabletop. But with only a handful of painted Flesh-eater models at my disposal, and with Age of Sigmar Skirmish not yet being a thing, my options were limited. Or so I thought. Fortuitously, it was around this time that I discovered a fan-made skirmish level project for AoS. That project was called Hinterlands and its creator was Sam Pearson (@_devianttactics) - whose work on the project caught the eye of Games Workshop it would seem, as he’s since joined their rules development team and took the lead on the very well received Beasts of Chaos battletome (check out my Beasts of Chaos battletome review here).
Sadly (but understandably), Sam has now discontinued support for Hinterlands and pulled the PDF from the web. But for the short time it was available, many hobbyists like myself enjoyed its smart blending of the Age of Sigmar rules with smaller scale skirmishes and light RPG elements. It was whilst fielding my small warband of Flesh-eaters in a Hinterlands campaign that they finally received their name - The Ravenous Pilgrims - named for their pious devotion to the itinerant Witchsmeller Accusant and his divine mission. They also received individual names such as Lord Bloodshanks Meatfeaster, Sir Gorebury Giblingmaw, Michoux the Mirthless, Friar Lardgobbler, Stabbelard (and his brother Stabbelarder), and so forth. I enjoyed seeing them develop as characters from one battle to the next, sometimes falling prey to injury, sometimes benefiting from the experience they’d gained. It was a fun campaign, and as a result of it each of these models will always be that little bit more special to me.
Skirmishes with the Knight of Deceasium
Hinterlands sadly came and went, and when Age of Sigmar Skirmish was later released I was eager to try it. Once again The Ravenous Pilgrims took to the field, and over the course of the campaign I gained enough renown to spend on a new model, which I decided would be a Crypt Horror. Of course, simply fielding a regular Crypt Horror without converting it in some way would be far too simple, and so the Knight of Deceasium was born. I also came up with a more elaborate backstory for the warband, with the Witchsmeller Accusant now cast as the right-hand-ghoul of a monstrously large Ghoul King name Gargantula, who presides over a court located at the bottom of a deep pit where the sheer weight of bodies slain in an ancient and bloody battle caused the ground itself to collapse - The Pit of Deceasium. This is how the Knight of Deceasium fits in:
The sainted court of King Gargantula the Pious is a morbid curiosity even by the standards of the flesh-eater courts. Whilst the king's power is great, the monstrous hulk has never fully completed his journey from elevated mordant to true vampire. As a result, in moments where the king finds himself distracted, the miasma of delusion that grips his court may flicker and fail, momentarily exposing the minds of his minions to the full horrific truth of their depraved nature.
At times of battle these lapses can exact a terrible toll, causing brave and honourable knights of the court to suddenly degenerate into slavering, cannibalistic monsters. Turning away from the battle in disgust, confusion and unbearable despair, these knights are swiftly captured and punished for their cowardice by the devotees of the court's religious patriarch, the Witchsmeller Accusant. Tormented, broken and mutilated, these disgraced crypt horrors have every last shred of sentience torn from them, becoming little more than monstrous mounts for chittering corpselings.
I had a lot of fun converting and painting this guy, and just as much fun deploying him on the tabletop, even if my ghoulish minions rarely managed to steal victory!
The Future of the Ravenous Pilgrims
With the addition of the Knight of Deceasium, I’m more or less happy with how the project has turned out. I dabbled a second time with the idea of building a 1000 point force for Age of Sigmar proper, but all of those conversions now sit at the bottom of my hobby pile, half completed. The Ravenous Pilgrims never became the eye-popping full scale army I’d originally envisioned, but that’s okay. I love the models that I managed to complete, and they form a fun and characterful warband just as they are.
Then again, when it comes to the minions of Nagash, who can truly say whether or not a dead project may be resurrected one day? Watch this space…
Why not try your own Flesh-eater Courts conversions by ordering your models from Element Games with a substantial discount on the recommended retail price. Ordering from Element Games via this link helps keep the light of Azyr shining on the Realm of Plastic.
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